SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Berkeley’s legal challenge to the U.S. Postal Service plan to sell the city’s century-old main post office is dead for now, along with the deal to sell the landmark building.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup dismissed as moot two lawsuits – from Berkeley and from the National Trust for Historic Preservation – finding that neither plaintiff could allege a cognizable injury since the deal they were fighting fell through.
But in a victory for the city and the National Trust, the Post Office had to rescind its decision to relocate the post office and was ordered to provide 42 days written notice to the plaintiffs in advance of any future sale.
The city sued the Postal Service on Nov. 5, 2014, claiming the planned sale, in the works since 2012, would violate the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act.
The laws require that the Postal Service conduct an environmental review and consult the public before selling a historic property. The National Trust for Historic Preservation filed its own complaint on Nov. 24.
“We see this as a really positive thing,” the National Trust’s attorney Brian Turner said. “We would have liked to have adjudicated the claims on the merits of NHPA and NEPA, but we understand the procedural issue that led the court to find that it was moot because there’s no current buyer. But the building is no longer for sale and the National Trust is really interested in continuing in its advocacy to protect historic post offices, Berkeley being one of them.”
Berkeley and the preservation group fought to keep the action alive, seeking an injunction preventing the postal service from moving forward with any sale or post office relocation until an appropriate environmental review is conducted.
But Alsup dismissed the case Tuesday, not only because the post office is no longer for sale, but because recent zoning restrictions in Berkeley’s civic center will make a private purchase of the building very difficult.
“This will substantially shrink the possible universe of purchasers or alternative users for the building, making it ever more unlikely that the controversy will ever rise from the dead,” Alsup wrote.
“In fact, no real and definite challenged project exists; it is merely hypothetical. No specific architectural plans have been drawn up, no money has changed hands, and the USPS is not contractually bound to do anything. Frankly, in light of the new zoning ordinance, it seems highly unlikely that this controversy will ever recur in the foreseeable future.”
Berkeley’s attorneys Roger Moore and Antonio Rossmann and City Attorney Zachary Cowan said in a statement: “Because the cases were dismissed as moot, the judge did not rule on the merits, so all of our arguments about noncompliance with NEPA and NHPA remain intact and viable, and can be asserted if and when the USPS tries to sell the building again.”
They added: “In a nutshell, Judge Alsup has effectively granted the City and National Trust the relief we requested by requiring USPS to make a binding commitment that its decisions to relocate and sell the post office have been rescinded. All in all, while it is disappointing not to be able to litigate the NEPA and NHPA issues to a final judgment, the litigation has accomplished its primary goal of keeping the post office at 2000 Allston Way.”
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